Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin, Illinois is one of the 10 worst immigrant detention centers in the country, according to a report issued yesterday by Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).
The report, which claims U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lack oversight of the nation’s detention facilities, sites a 350-mile distance from Chicago and a depleted communication infrastructure, including broken phones and expensive calling cards, as causes to consider Tri-County an unacceptable place for housing immigrants.
Because of “ICE’s failure to hold the facility accountable and the ongoing human rights and due process violations” the report, part of the National Immigrant and Justice Center’s “Expose and Close” campaign, recommends that Tri-County be closed.
“Tri-County definitely needs to be improved, and if the conditions cannot be improved the facility needs to be closed,” said Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). “There are other facilities that ICE uses to house detainees in the Chicago region, but probably more significantly, ICE needs to look at alternatives such as community release and home monitoring.”
Tsao said the situation at Tri-County is a reflection of how poor the detention system is across the country and the strong need for immigration reform.
“We need alternatives that enable people to be in the community with their families and that are also much cheaper; it would save our federal government a lot of money to have people on some kind of community release program, as opposed to locking them away on taxpayer’s dollars,” he said.
Out of 228 beds that ICE has access to at Tri-County, the average daily population of November detainees is 223, according to a spokesperson for ICE.
Along with Tri-County, the National Immigrant Justice Center also called for the closure of nine other detention centers across the nation, including Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, Pinal County Jail in Arizona, Houston Processing Center in Texas, Polk County Jail in Texas, Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, Irwin County Jail in Georgia, Hudson County Jail in New Jersey, Theo Lacy Jail in California, and Baker County Jail in Florida.
"ICE is in the process of fully reviewing the reports,” said Gillian Christensen, deputy press secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a statement. “However, it is disappointing that the reports appear to be built primarily on anonymous allegations that cannot be investigated or substantiated, and many second hand sources and anecdotes that pre-date the agency’s initiation of detention reform.”
“ICE stands behind the significant work we’ve done reforming the detention system by increasing federal oversight, improving conditions of confinement and prioritizing the health and safety of the individuals in our custody,” she said.
According to ICE standards from 2000, “facilities holding INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) detainees shall permit them to have reasonable and equitable access to telephones,” including at least one phone for every 25 detainees and that the facility shall maintain detainee telephones in proper working order.
“Access to phones and lawyers is a major issue that we see system-wide, often the phones don’t work and that’s detainee’s only connection to their lawyer,” said Tara Tidwell Cullen, director of communications for Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center.
When U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) visited Tri-County in early 2012, he said he attempted to use the telephone, but it wasn’t working.
“This goes back to the systemic problems that exist in the detention system; a lot of it stems from the jail needing to govern itself, but when you're located six hours away from any advocates, it’s difficult to keep tabs on it and hold the facility accountable,” said Tidwell Cullen.
“We have no sense that ICE has any oversight of this facility or any of the county jail facilities in the Midwest.”